Review: SEA WALL

by Lynn on September 26, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at The Assembly Theatre, 1479 Queen St. W., Toronto, Ont. Playing until Oct. 8, 2023. Bright Young Things & Quiet Things Creative in Association with One Four One Collective presents:

Written by Simon Stephens

Directed by Belinda Cornish

Starring Jamie Cavanagh.

The set is simple in Simon Stephens’ complex, emotional play. There is a suitcase on the floor, a ladder and a table with a kettle, a mug and a container of tea bags.

Alex (Jamie Cavanagh) arrives, looks carefully around the space, pauses, thinks. He turns on the kettle. He puts a tea bag in the mug. He’s a photographer. He tells us of his great love for his wife, Helen. He’s besotted by her. He even likes his father-in-law, Arthur a ex-military man. They visit him in the South of France where he has a house. Alex and Helen have a daughter, Lucy, who they adore. The three of them begin to fly to the South of France, as the long drive might be hard on their young daughter.

On one trip Arthur took Alex to the sea wall. It was a place to swim, but Alex said that the drop down to the sea floor was sudden and unexpected. Alex thought it would slope down, and not plunge down. The surprises of life when your least expect it.

Actor Jamie Cavanagh plays Alex with an easy grace, a dazzling smile when talking of his wife and daughter. But something is odd. Jamie Cavanagh is not telegraphing in his acting that Alex is troubled, but something is distracting him. The kettle comes to the boil and Alex does nothing with it. He does not pour the water into the mug with the tea bag. He does not acknowledge the click of the kettle at all. It’s as if he is willfully focusing on telling us the story as engagingly as he can, until he tells us of the hole in his stomach. It’s as if he and we have suddenly fallen down into the depths of the sea wall when we least expect it. Something happened on a recent trip and it’s turned his whole life upside down. Startling, sudden, irrevocable.   

Playwright, Simon Stephens has written a beautifully constructed work of love, devotion, idyllic happiness and piercing observation about loss and sorrow. It’s almost lilting in its pace, as we are drawn further and further into the story, because Alex is so charming, and Jamie Cavanagh’s playing of him gently takes us in.  Director Belinda Cornish has directed this with scrupulous simplicity and attention. It’s tempting for the actor to indicate initially that something is wrong—that the euphoria of memory is twinged with a prescient knowledge of sorrow.  But Cavanagh does not fall into that trap, not does Belinda Cornish direct him there. We follow him every step of the way, until we plunge down into the depths.   

Sea Wall is a terrific piece of theatre.

Bright Young Things & Quiet Things Creative in Association with One Four One Collective presents:

Plays until Oct. 8, 2023.

Running Time: 1 hour.

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